My life changed in 2005. Why? Was it a major epiphany? Did someone give me a massive sum of money? Did I go on an overseas trip?
No. It was a then-unknown show called The Office, and its razor-sharp, low-key-but-hilarious writing, that changed my life.
The show had so many strengths. It was, in my limited experience, the first comedy since The Cosby Show that portrayed real people. It wasn’t based on zany events (at least in its first three seasons, which I prefer), but on the ordinary stuff of real life. Everyday existence has plenty of drama, plenty of quiet turbulence, and The Office got that. It had a great love story, with Jim and Pam, but instead of some steamy sexual romp, the show (building off of the British version) allowed the halting relationship between noble Jim and double-minded Pam to pick up momentum over time.
One thing I do think The Office, a show about work, got largely wrong was this, though: work. As the show portrayed it, work is something to endure. Get through. Pass. Not really enjoy. Those devoted to their jobs, like Dwight, are weird. The rest of the cast punches the clock, chips away at their duties, cuts some corners, and generally mopes through the day.
Let’s be perfectly honest: from a Christian perspective, work can be tough, long, and even dreary. Sin affects work, both in our hearts and as a result of unfairness. We all taste the curse of daily labor due to Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:17-19).
But while work is subject to the curse, it’s also given to us by God. Adam did work before he disobeyed God and brought death to us all (see Gen. 2). It certainly looks as though we will be active in the new heaven and the new earth after this world passes away. The apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to “not be slothful in zeal” but “fervent in spirit” in order to “serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).
Sure, I’ll Work, But . . .
Many Christians, seeing these familiar texts, would agree with me so far. You might say, “Yes. I’m going to work. I’ll make money because I need it for other stuff, including my church.” This is a commendable start to understanding and practicing the Bible’s bold approach to our daily labor.
But I think there’s a great deal more in Scripture to transform our understanding of work.
Many of us, I think, view our faith and our work as largely separate. We go to church and participate in the spiritual work of God; we go to work to make money. The two might overlap—such as when we share the gospel—but are fairly separate.
My generation—20-somethings and 30-somethings—has been seriously affected by this mindset. The problem isn’t necessarily that we don’t want to work. It’s that we don’t want to really invest in a vocation. We’re tempted to be lazy about building a career and finding a calling. Many of us are drawn to less serious things: video games, hangout sessions, shopping, or sports. What does this lifestyle end up doing to us? It makes us approach work lackadaisically. If we’re not careful, we can end up trapped in a permanent winter break with little to do, slightly annoyed parents, and a feeling of aimlessness.
Or, alternately, some of us are tempted to make our jobs an idol, which is an equally harmful pitfall. We were made to work, but we were not made only for work.
Having a healthy perspective on your vocation can be particularly difficult for believers facing one of three circumstances.
1. You’re in college or just out of it, and you don’t know what to do with your life.
2. You’ve been working for awhile but don’t know what your career strategy should be.
3. You’re struggling to find work in a time that still features a relatively weak economy.
These different situations call for unique individual responses. But I want you to see a principle that can help in these instances and many others: God wants you to build a career. He wants you to risk your comfort and ease and boredom and low vocational expectations. He offers you a better, bigger life in his gospel, one that will put every particle of your being to use for his kingdom. The Lord wants you to work for his glory because he’s saved you for just that purpose.
You’re not a brute; you’re not an automaton; you’re not a clump of cells. You have the privilege of knowing that God made you intelligent.
Christians are sometimes seen as being anti-creativity. We’re all about execution and undisturbed order, not the imagination. We like rules, not creativity. But if we’re following the example of our Lord, nothing could be less true! We have the best foundation for entrepreneurship, art, ingenuity, innovation, and the imagination. We know we didn’t come from nothing. We’re not cosmic accidents who happen to have ended up as thinking beings.
We are the choicest creation of divine intelligence. God has commissioned us, in other words, to build and create.
We are, if you will, gospel entrepreneurs. Instead of operating in a beaten-down, scared-to-risk, sitting-on-our-hands mentality in which we passively wait for the world to act upon us, we can build godly vocations and careers for God’s glory. This kind of existence is driven by and dedicated to the gospel.
God is delighted when you work unto him and find pleasure in your vocation. You are merely doing what he does, after all—working and laboring and creating. This doesn’t apply only to entrepreneurs or artists, though; it applies to anyone solving assembly line problems, fixing plumbing issues, untangling math calculations, teaching children new words, cutting hair a new style, figuring out a better base-stealing method, and too many other work responsibilities to count.
As you think and analyze and make things better, you’re showing who you are: a being made in the very image of almighty God.
Let’s return to my love for The Office. Its early seasons are often rich, funny, and even insightful about life in a fallen world. It’s true that work can be long and taxing and even frustrating. You know this; I know this. We all have different duties to perform in our vocations that aren’t our personal favorites. I certainly do.
Let’s not kid ourselves: it will always be that way, because work is hard. But if we will adopt a biblical vision of work, we can punch the gas, not the clock. We can build something invigorating. We can dream big, make bold plans, and aggressively pursue a vision for our lives that makes maximal use of our God-given gifts and passions.
God has given us the opportunity to work not for temporal, fading things, but for the advancement of the gospel of his kingdom.
Editors’ Note: This excerpt is taken from Owen Strachan’s Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome (Thomas Nelson), which releases today. You can check out the book’s website and watch a trailer here.